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A great knowledge of natural history


An education provided by trips to museums
Brian Sewell Writer
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I was taken, I think, to every museum and gallery in London.  A great many that have disappeared, like the old London Museum and the Imperial Institute. And you go around something like the Imperial Institute, and it had glass cases full of stuffed animals and birds, butterflies and so on. Any question you wanted to ask about any animal could be answered either in the Institute or the Natural History Museum just across the road. And nothing, nothing that wouldn’t tell you what you wanted to know about Kenya or Borneo or whatever. It was all in one museum or the other. And there is, I think, no better way of having your curiosity aroused than by seeing things about which you wish to ask a question, and then get the answer. I know it’s no longer possible, in the Natural History Museum, to look in drawers at bird skins, but there I was, at the age of seven and eight, being allowed to pull out drawers and there’s the skin of a bird. It’s been taken off the carcass. It’s not stuffed. It is just the perfect feathered outer skin of a bird. And to be able to look at those.

I mean, I don’t think they would allow it now, even if it were allowed, if you see what I mean. And they would say, no, you are too young, you must… you couldn’t… but we were trusted. I don’t know why I say 'we', I mean I know that I was trusted to look at these things without pulling the feathers out or damaging them.

Born in England, Brian Sewell (1931-2015) was considered to be one of Britain’s most prominent and outspoken art critics. He was educated at the Courtauld Institute of Art and subsequently became an art critic for the London Evening Standard; he received numerous awards for his work in journalism. Sewell also presented several television documentaries, including an arts travelogue called The Naked Pilgrim in 2003. He talked candidly about the prejudice he endured because of his sexuality.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: London, The Imperial Institute, Natural History Museum, Kenya, Borneo

Duration: 2 minutes, 2 seconds

Date story recorded: 2008

Date story went live: 28 June 2012